The Internet came alive today with stories about Ray and Janay Rice and domestic violence in general. There were a lot of people asking the same questions:

But why did she stay?
Why did she marry him?
Why didn’t she press charges?

These questions were quickly shot down by victim advocates and domestic violence survivors trying to educate the entire Internet about the issues brought up by these questions, like:

  • Asking these questions is a form of victim-blaming, placing the responsibility for the abuse (or at least any continued abuse) on the victim rather than on the perpetrator, in the same way that questions like, “Why did you go out walking alone at night?” or, “Why did you leave your drink sitting where somebody could slip something into it?” are victim-blaming questions when directed at sexual assault victims.
  • Reporting domestic violence to law enforcement or cooperating with prosecution may escalate the violence in the relationship. In fact, this is very commonly the case.
  • These kinds of questions have an underlying assumption that victims of domestic violence are weak. The word victim is often used interchangeably with terms/ideas like weak, doormat, vulnerable, dupe, fool, pushover, and sucker. This attitude completely misses one of the primary truths about domestic violence victims: THEY. ARE. STRONG.
  • Victims of domestic violence are at the highest risk of the violence escalating when they are preparing to exit the relationship or after they have left. The abuser increases the frequency and/or intensity of coercive and violent behaviors as an attempt to grasp at the power and control slipping from his grasp. The majority of domestic violence homicides occur when the victim is preparing to leave or within the first year after she has left. Every victim is an expert – an expert on her own abuser. No matter who you are, or how much you know, you do not know more than she does about her abuser. A victim who stays often does so in order to protect herself and her children, if she has them, from escalating violence.
  • These questions steal victims’ agency. They presume that victims of domestic violence are not qualified to make their own choices or that the choices they make are somehow not valid. Every victim has reasons for what she does: reasons for staying, for going back, for fighting, for not fighting, for defending him, for denouncing him… Every one of her choices is hers and hers alone, and valid because she is the only one qualified to make choices about her own life.

hashtags whyistayed whyileft

Awesomely, within hours of these discussions starting, the #WhyIStayed and #WhyILeft hashtags started trending on Twitter. Courageous survivors of domestic violence shared their stories with the world, many for the first time. I sat for an hour straight today reading these strong women’s (and men’s) tweets with tears rolling down my face and sobs erupting from my gut. Every time I hear people talk about social media being a Bad Thing, I think about things like this. These hashtags have given voices to the voiceless. They have inspired people to share their stories, to advocate for themselves and other victims, and they have informed many who are fortunate enough not to have been victims of domestic violence about the realities of the lives of victims as well as inspiring many to step up and help victims. This is social media WINNING.


This post contains descriptions of types of tactics used by child abuse perpetrators. Please practice good self care in choosing whether or not to read it and what kind of support you might need if these are triggering things for you to read. ♥

This information comes from the English – Child Abuse Wheel and is presented to help victims and/or their loved ones recognize abuse. While the behaviors described in the wheel are not by any means the only ones used, they give a picture of the overall types of tactics commonly used by those who abuse children.

The way most of the Power and Control Wheels are read begins with the outer ring, which contains behaviors which are visible, non-subtle forms of Violence, and may be illegal acts. Then the inner spaces between the spokes of the wheel contain categories of more subtle behaviors that make up the day-to-day control tactics in most abusive relationships. It is important to understand that the dynamic in abusive relationships is one of an on-going pattern of abuse. What that means is that while a single incident of one of the tactics in the outer ring may meet the definition of child abuse under the law, there are larger and more subtle patterns at play in most families where abuse takes place.

The outer circle in the Child Abuse Wheel includes sexual violence behaviors such as incest, sexual touching or kissing, and sexualizing children’s behavior for the gratification of the adult and physical violence behaviors such as pinching, hitting, kicking, pushing, arm twisting, and choking.

The first spoke in the Child Abuse Wheel is about the tactic of Using Institutions to control the child. This includes things like threatening the child with punishment or retribution for “bad behavior” by God, the church, the courts, the police, a teacher or the school, the juvenile detention center, foster care, family members, or the mental health system.

The next spoke in the Child Abuse Wheel is using Isolation as a tactic to control the child. This can include limiting or controlling the child’s access to friends, peers, other adults, siblings, the child’s other parent, grandparents, etc.

The third spoke of the Child Abuse Wheel refers to the use of Emotionally Abusive tactics to control the child. Such tactics include putting the child down, calling the child names, making the child feel unworthy, using the child as a confidant, putting the child in the middle between the parents or other family members, being inconsistent with the child, and shaming the child.

The next spoke in the Child Abuse Wheel is using tactics of Economic Abuse to control the child. This may include withholding the child’s basic needs; using money to control the child’s behavior; spending money needed for the child’s well-being on alcohol, drugs, gambling, luxuries for the parent, or other unneccessary expenses; withholding child support from the child’s other parent; using the child as an economic bargaining chip in divorce and custody proceedings.

The fifth spoke of the Child Abuse Wheel is using Threats as a tactic to control the child. The abuser may threaten to abandon the child or the family; threaten suicide; threatening to confine the child in a closet, the child’s room, the home, or elsewhere; threatening physical harm to the child, other loved ones, or pets.

Spoke six on the Child Abuse Wheel refers to Using Adult Privilege to control the child. This includes tactics like treating the child as a servant, punishing for the gratification of the adult, bossing the child around, always “winning” over the child, incessant interrupting of the child because whatever the adult has to say is more important, and denying the child any input into visitation and custody decisions.

The final spoke in the Child Abuse Wheel is using Intimidation to control the child. Intimidation tactics commonly used include using looks, actions, gestures, and property destruction to make the child fearful of the adult; using one’s adult size to coerce the child; yelling, screaming, or cursing at the child; being violent to other family members, loved ones, or pets.

If you suspect that you or someone you know is experiencing child abuse, please get help! You can contact your state child welfare agency or call the National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453).





In 1982, the Domestic Abuse Intervention Project in Duluth, Minnesota developed a tool intended to illustrate the ways power and control are integral to domestic violence. This tool, the Power and Control Wheel, has been used within the field of domestic violence advocacy now for more than 30 years, and has been used as a model for many other tools designed for education, prevention, and advocacy around issues of abuse.

I have collected numerous examples of these wheels, and offer easy links to them here. These wheels may be of help to you if:

  • you are, or think you may be, a victim of abuse;
  • you care for someone who is, or may be, a victim of abuse;
  • you work in a profession that puts you in occasional or frequent contact with people who are, or may be, victims of abuse and you want to learn to identify and support them;
  • you want to learn more about recognizing abusive tactics in the relationships you see around you and how to better provide support for victims;
  • you want to help do the larger work of improving community responses to abuse.

Below you’ll find tables containing categorized links to the various wheels. In later posts, I’ll cover some of the specific wheels and how to read and use them.

Read More

This excellent article on the Good Men Project website is worth reading. Shattering myths about victims is as important as shattering myths about abusers.

Post content warning: Rape, trauma response.

A friend tagged me today on Facebook when posting the link at the end of this post. I felt it important to share my Facebook response here.

I don’t read this comic – wasn’t aware of it until today, and it isn’t really a genre I’m into, so I probably won’t read it. But I want to say LOUDLY and CLEARLY: 

Every victim’s responses are unique to zem. All the “shoulds” in the shared email are based on one person’s experiences and what she knows (i.e. what she has been told) by other victims. Some victims want to have consensual sexual relationships immediately after their experience; for some this gives them back a feeling of possessing the power and control that was stolen from them. (This was my response after my childhood sexual abuse and again initially after I experienced stranger rape as an adult, after which I went through a period of about six months when I couldn’t be sexual at all.)


We HAVE TO stop writing these scripts for victims. It hurts them because being told they should be feeling this or that, that they should be exhibiting this or that emotion/behavior/whatever makes them feel guilty and ashamed for not processing their experience properly. The truth is that each and every victim responds in the way they do. PERIOD. I encourage victims not to fall into seriously self-harming behaviors because I care that they not do further damage to themselves and their lives. But I don’t tell them they SHOULD be doing or not doing anything.

I have seen victims of sexual assault hysterical. I have seen them calm, cool, and collected. I have seen them stoic. I have seen them laughing. I have seen them having sexual relationships immediately after they were raped. I have seen them never have sex again, or not for years. The point is: THERE SHOULD BE NO SCRIPT.

I applaud the author’s mother for her willingness to let her story be shared.

Link content warning: rape, kidnapping, captivity, life-threatening briefly described. One person’s trauma response described at length.

Kin’s Story Is Kind of True

I don’t usually just link to others’ articles, but this excellent article on deserves a lot of attention.

“University officials and cops love to give women tips on how to avoid being raped, so we’ve annotated this quintessential story — you could replace the names and locations and apply it to so many other athlete rape (and non-jock rape) scenarios — to compile some tips for student athletes who need help not raping anyone. Print it out and put it in the locker room. Clear eyes, full hearts, don’t rape!”

Content warning: rape, rape culture, victim blaming

Video content warning: depictions of domestic violence in public.

Would you just sit by while something like this was happening? Most of us would like to think we wouldn’t. This is an overdone example, though. Most abusers are not this obvious, particularly in a public place. How many of us suspect a friend, family member, or co-worker is in an abusive relationship but don’t attempt to intervene? How many of us see small signs of abuse but hesitate to take any action?

A bystander is a person who observes a conflict or unacceptable behavior. In the case of domestic violence, a bystander might be a person who sees a physical domestic violence incident occur, or it might be a person who is aware of or suspects a domestic violence relationship without having directly witnessed physical violence. A bystander might be a stranger, or it might be an acquaintance, a friend, or a family member. So for this article, we’re going to assume that you are a bystander and have some knowledge of the relationship – you are an acquaintance, friend, co-worker, or family member of the abuser or the victim. When a bystander observes a situation, they go through a process of evaluating the situation.

First, of course, they have to notice the situation. We’ll assume that’s already happened. The signs may be obvious, or they may be subtle. Subtle signs include looks, actions, and gestures that intimidate the victim; putting the victim down, calling her names, and humiliating the victim; controlling what the victim does, who she sees or talks to, and where she goes; being overly possessive and jealous; shifting responsibility for his behavior onto the victim; using the victim’s children to relay messages or make her feel guilty; keeping the victim from getting a job or otherwise controlling her access to money; expecting the victim to serve him; making all the decisions; a pattern of dropping charges or recanting stories of abuse; the victim making excuses for the abuser’s behavior. While any of these signs alone may be meaningless, even one can be an important indicator, but more than one can indicate a pattern. When it’s difficult to see a clear-cut pattern, it can be difficult to intervene. The more obvious and severe the signs, the easier it is to decide to intervene.

Secondly, they have to evaluate the perceived cost of getting involved. This might include concerns over retaliation aimed at yourself, the victim, or someone else. Such retaliation might take the form of being fired or experiencing other work-related consequences if the perpetrator is a co-worker or supervisor. If the perpetrator or the victim is a friend or family member, feared retaliation might include the loss of one or more important relationships. And finally, a bystander might understandably fear that any intervention would lead to the perpetrator escalating the abuse.

The next thing a bystander must evaluate is whether he or she needs to take responsibility for acting. When there are other people who you feel are also aware, or perhaps more aware, of the problem, you may feel less inclined to get involved. This is referred to as “The Bystander Effect,” a social psychological phenomenon where people do not attempt to help a victim when other people are present or aware. There is an inverse relationship between the number of bystanders and the likelihood of anyone offering assistance: the greater the number of bystanders, the more diffused the responsibility, that is, the less likely it is that any one of them will help. Bystanders are also more likely to intervene when they feel they have some similarity with the victim; if the bystander feels that the victim has a different background, different beliefs, different values, or is of a different socioeconomic class, he or she may be less likely to take responsibility for helping the victim.

Bystanders are also likely to evaluate their own qualifications to offer assistance. If the bystander feels that she or he is unlikely to be capable of helping, if he or she feels that such help is beyond his or her own ability to assist, it is likely that the decision not to help will be made. Bystanders can seek information on organized assistance for victims in order to ameliorate their sense of helplessness.

Finally, the bystander will evaluate what type of help he or she should offer. What type of help is needed may be difficult to determine. It might be helping the victim leave the situation, confronting a behavior, trying to defuse the situation, or calling for other support.

The following checklist may help bystanders:

  • Before taking action:
    • Am I aware of the problem or risky situation?
    • Do I recognize someone needs help?
    • Do I see others and myself as part of the solution?
  • During the situation:
    • How can I keep myself safe?
    • What are my available options?
    • Are there others I can call for help?
    • What are the benefits and costs involved in taking action?
  • Deciding to take action:
    • When should I act?
    • How should I act?
      • Violence does not stop violence. When you see someone being abusive, flying in like a superhero and throwing BAM! POW! punches is only going to make things worse.
      • Instead, use words. Ask questions like, “Is everything okay?” while looking at both people. This is a way to interrupt the fight without causing more drama.
      • Don’t silence or ignore the victim. Be sure that you don’t put all the focus on the perpetrator. The victim’s voice should be heard and respected. Ignoring victims makes it seem like their feelings – and voice – don’t matter.
      • If you are seeing actual battering taking place, dial 911 and report it. Do not risk confronting the perpetrator because it could escalate the violence.

Remember that violence doesn’t end after one interaction. Sometimes the violence continues, or the people stay together. This can be frustrating, but taking a stand against violence is still important.


  1. Benson, P.L., Karabenick, S.A., & Lerner, R.M. (1976). Pretty pleases: The effects of physical attractiveness, race, and sex on receiving help. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 12, 409-415.
  2. Berkowitz, L. (1987). Mood, self-awareness, and the willingness to help. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 52, 721-729.
  3. Cialdini, R.B., & Trost, M.R. (1998). “Social influence: Social norms, conformity, and compliance.” In D. Gilbert, S. Fiske, & G. Lindzey (Eds.) ‘‘The handbook of social psychology, (4th edition) vol. 2’’, pp. 151-192. New York: McGraw-Hill.
  4. Dameron, J. (Director), Licht, T. (Producer), Smario, J. R. (Producer), Dameron, J. (Videographer), Tuvshinbat, G. (Videographer), , , , , & , (2013). Imagine domestic violence at a restaurant [Web]. Retrieved from
  5. Gaulin, S. J. C. and D. H. McBurney (2001) Psychology: An Evolutionary Approach. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.
  6. Sexual violence and relationship violence: Bystander intervention. (n.d.). Retrieved from
  7. Shotland, R. L., & Heinold, W. D. (1985). Bystander response to arterial bleeding: Helping skills, the decision-making process, and differentiating the helping response. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 49(2), 347-356.

Some people reading this blog will notice that I consistently use the word “victim” and do not use the word “survivor” much. There are a few reasons for that.

First of all, because my work deals with victims of crime, I tend to use field-specific definitions of victim and survivor. A victim is a person who is directly or proximately harmed because of the commission of a crime. A survivor is a person whose loved one is killed in the commission of a crime, or a person who lives through a crime that was intended to kill.

But the bigger issue is that I, and many others who have been victimized and/or who work in the field of victim services/victim advocacy have some legitimate critiques of the “From Victim to Survivor” (and sometimes also “To Thriver”) model that is based on a “heteronormative discourse of compulsory optimism and hopefulness” (Koyama, 2011).

The binary definition of victim vs. survivor can be, in itself, oppressive. The definition supports a culture view of “victims” as disempowered and helpless. Many people prefer “survivor” over “victim” because survivor feels strong and proactive, while victim feels weak, vulnerable, and passive. Society views victimization as something that must be overcome. The victimized are sometimes given an “allowance of time, space, and resources” for recovery from their experiences. This allowance exempts victims from some societal expectations and responsibilities. However, this exemption is limited and conditional and comes with a whole different set of expectations and responsibilities the victim must achieve, focused on getting help, taking care of themselves, and recovering from being victimized. This process of recovery or healing, of becoming a survivor, is a mandatory one for victims. Failing to successfully make that transformation results in victim-blaming and social sanctions for the victim.

This model reinforces society’s need for victims to return quickly to their previous positions in the heteronormative, capitalist social and economic system. Unfortunately, this immense pressure on victims to become survivors has become a cultural attitude that even feminist groups and advocacy workers have internalized.

This model reinforces a worldview that says people are responsible for their own misery, and that the solution for their misery is the responsibility of the individual, rather than collective, organized action. It allows society to view victims as powerless and stuck. The abuser has won, and the only hope for the victim is to change her or his thinking and behavior in order to claim victory, in the guise of survivorship, over the abuser. It refuses to take into account the barriers victims face in addition to having been victimized, such as poverty, rural location, lack of health insurance to pay for services, inappropriate reactions from law enforcement officers or emergency medical workers, lack of access to helping resources, lack of social embeddedness, lack of perceived or enacted social support, multiple and possibly lifelong victimizations, fear of reprisal that keeps them in fight-or-flight mode long-term, etc. This individualistic, everybody’s-capable-of-healing view leads to victim-blaming for those who cannot, or do not, make this imaginary transition. Where, in this model, is community accountability and care?

Dr. Edward Creagan (2011) states, “Everyone has setbacks, disappointments and frustrations. But the way you respond to these challenges and opportunities is what defines you. Whether you become a victim or a ‘seasoned survivor’ depends on your attitude and the way you view the setback. […] Whatever has happened, you can choose to whine and complain about it, or to profit and learn from the experience. Whining is not only unproductive, it also pushes away your support network. Friends and colleagues will listen for just so long, but then it is time to move on. The choice is yours.”

So victims who “whine and complain” are blamed for causing their own misery by pushing away their support networks, as if the victim’s thinking and behavior are the only barrier standing between victimhood and survivorship. Remaining in this narrowly defined role of “victim” is a failure to live up to societal expectations. But those who work with victims of abuse must embrace so-called “unproductive” whining and complaining as legitimate functions of survival in a world that will not become just simply because those who have been victimized change our individual thinking. We also have to acknowledge that there is strength, creativity, and resiliency in weakness, vulnerability, and passivity.

Victims do not just “get over it” once and for all. They are forever changed. Their lives will never be the same. When victims do not accomplish whatever are the expected steps toward recovery with which they have been presented, they experience both external and internalized victim-blaming. One victim says,

I was told by a victim advocate that the average length of recovery time from Rape Trauma Syndrome was four years. This was five years after I was raped (which was also 38 years after the first time I was sexually molested, 27 years after I escaped a child sexual abuse “relationship” that included human trafficking, 22 years after I left my home of origin and its system of child abuse and domestic violence, and 11 years after I exited an abusive marriage although he was still using our children to continue his reign of power and control tactics in my life). I felt like an utter failure, like a broken thing that could never be repaired. I felt weak and powerless, and like my abusers had won, like they were beating me up all over again, raping me all over again, controlling me all over again, selling me all over again. All the internalized victim-blaming bullshit was there in the middle of my head and my heart, making me feel worthless and small.

This is what the victim vs. survivor model can do to some victims. Can it help some victims? Yes, I am sure that it can and does.

But victims are not worthless. They are not small. Weakness and vulnerability can contain great power. I do not believe I would be capable of the level of compassion and empathy I have for other victims if I felt strong and empowered all the time.

My message to you, if you have been or are a victim of abuse, rape, sexual assault, child abuse, child sexual abuse, human trafficking, or other victimization that strikes at the very core of who you are as these crimes do, is that if you are still here, you are surviving. There is no linear path of externally-imposed steps you must take. You do not have to be hopeful, optimistic, or positive. If you lack optimism or self-esteem, it is not a personal failing. Any coping strategies that work for you are okay, even if they appear on some list of “unhealthy coping strategies” somebody came up with. If they are doing you actual harm and you wish to change that, you can do so or seek help to do so. But it’s up to you; only you get to decide where you are and what’s best for you. If seeing yourself as a survivor is what works for you, go for it! Just please, in either case, don’t impose what works for you on someone else and judge them as less-than because they don’t fit your model.

My message to you, if you are a friend or family member of a victim, a pastor, a counselor, a victim advocate, or someone else who frequently interacts with victims, is that you need to own your uncomfortableness with whatever a victim needs to do to get through, and manage it on your own rather than burdening the victim with the responsibility for fixing what’s making you uncomfortable.

NOTE: My extreme thanks to Emi Koyama for putting into words so much better than I ever could, this issue.


  1. Koyama, E. (2011, Nov 22). Reclaiming “victim”: Exploring alternatives to the heteronormative “victim to survivor” discourse. [Web log article]. Retrieved from
  2. Creagan, E. T. (2011, Oct 26). Victim or survivor? it’s your choice. Retrieved from

The most common question I hear people ask (or the most common question implied by their usually negative and victim-blaming comments) about intimate partner violence victims is, “Why do they stay?” The reasons victims of intimate partner violence stay in those violent relationships are myriad and individual. I can speak to some of them, but I cannot speak to all of them. Each victim’s reasons are valid and legitimate. Leaving is not the only answer, and it is not the safest option for many victims. In fact, the myth that the way to safety is to get out fosters disdain for victims who do not get out. In reality, the victim is often in more danger after leaving or while preparing to leave. The majority of intimate partner violence-related deaths occur post-separation; the most common post-separation incidents, including homicides, occur during child visitation. (In my home state of Oklahoma, children actually witness one-third of intimate partner violence-related homicides.) The general public, and those who work in law enforcement and emergency medical services, need to understand the reasons victims do not “just leave that jerk.”

  • FEAR
    • Victims fear further or more severe injury from their perpetrator if they attempt to leave. This fear is born of threats of exactly that, and for the large percentage of victims who have attempted to leave in the past, direct experience.
    • Victims fear that their abuser will kill them if they attempt to leave. Again, this fear is founded on threats the abuser has made (“If I can’t have you, nobody can” is a common threat). This fear is also based in very explicit reality: women who leave their batterers are at a 75% greater risk of being killed by their batterers than those who stay. (Similar statistics are not as available for male victims of intimate partner violence.)
    • Intimate partner violence victims are aware of the social stigma involved in their predicament. The victim blaming, the assumption that they are crazy or masochistic, these things are so prevalent in the culture. Leaving means their victimhood is more likely to be discovered by a wider range of people.
    • In addition, victims may live with a family, religious, or community culture that shames those who divorce. Often women are more stigmatized than men following a divorce. This same atmosphere of reproach makes intimate partner victims feel ashamed of failing to keep their marriage together.
    • Also, because essentially every intimate partner violence perpetrator makes her or his victim feel like everything that goes on is the victim’s fault, this feeling of shame for somehow not being able to be “good enough” to make the relationship work, for not being able to “behave properly” enough to keep the perpetrator happy enough that he or she wouldn’t “have to” be violent.
  • HOPE
    • The victim hopes that the abuser will change. The average length of time between violent physical attacks in intimate partner violence relationships is 2.5 years. The cycle of violence in these relationships is incredibly deceptive to the victim. The relationship typically starts with a calm, happy phase. During this Calm Phase, the abuser is very good to the victim. There may be gifts, and extremely solicitous treatment. In fact, victims say frequently that the good times with their partners are very, very good. Then at some point, the Tension Building Phase begins. During this phase, the abuser starts to get angry and manipulative. The victim feels like he or she is walking on eggshells, doing everything possible to keep the abuser calm. The abuser sets the victim up to believe that she or he is responsible for the abuser’s emotions and behavior. The abuser may also blame work pressure, family problems, or any other external forces. There is a breakdown of communication. When the tension becomes too much, emotional, sexual, and/or physical violence occurs. The abuser uses whatever amount of escalating violence necessary to maintain his or her sense of power and control. After the violent incident, the Making-Up Phase occurs. During this phase, the abuser may apologize profusely and promise that such an incident will never happen again. Commonly, the abuser will also find ways to blame the victim for the abuse and deny or minimize what occurred, attempting to make the victim agree that his or her perception of the abuse is blown out of proportion. This phase leads back into the Calm Phase, in which the abuser – and quite likely the victim – acts as if the abuse never happened. During this phase, physical abuse is probably not occurring, although other more subtle emotional and psychological control tactics are likely still ongoing. Whatever promises the abuser made during the Making-Up Phase may be met. Gift-giving and loving, solicitous behavior may occur again. The victim hopes that the abuse will never occur again. Because this phase can be very extended, this hope is fed. And the cycle continues.
    • The victim hopes and possibly sincerely believes that that her or his actions will make the abuser change.
    • The abuser may control all the finances in the relationship.
    • The abuser may prevent or discourage the victim seeking or holding a job, preventing him or her from having financial resources of his or her own.
    • If the victim does have a job, the abuser likely controls any money that she or he makes.
    • The victim may feel that she or he has no ability to financial support her- or himself, making her or him more dependent on the abuser.
    • The more dependent the abuser can make the victim, the less able he or she feels to leave.
    • As mentioned above, the abuser may prevent the victim from employment. He or she may also keep the victim from seeking education, limit her or his access to transportation, and may isolate her or him from family and friends. This isolation fosters more dependence.
    • The abuser may keep the victim pregnant or caring for small children.
    • Above all, the abuser cultivates in the victim a feeling that she or he cannot make it without him or her.
    • The victim may buy into the idea that children need both parents, regardless of the abusive behavior of her or his partner.
    • The abuser may threaten to abuse the children, or actually abuse them, to maintain control. Intimate partner violence perpetrators are seven times more likely to abuser the children in the household than are non-perpetrators. They are six times more likely to sexually abuse the children in the household than non-intimate partner violence perpetrators (1 in 4 homes with intimate partner violence also have child abuse, and this number may be low). Step-children (children who are not the perpetrator’s biological children) are in the most danger.
    • The victim may fear losing custody of the children to the perpetrator if he or she leaves. This is not an unfounded fear, either. Intimate partner violence perpetrators are twice as likely to seek sole custody as are non-perpetrators, and they are 67% more likely to win custody. Part of the reason for this is that victims of intimate partner violence frequently have mental health disorders caused by the pattern of power and control they have suffered, while perpetrators of intimate partner violence have fewer mental health disorders; when courts order psychological evaluation of the parents in a custody case, the victim often looks “crazy” but the perpetrator does not.
    • Children living in homes with intimate partner violence and child abuse stay silent out of fear and out of loyalty; they want to protect their parents, their siblings, and themselves.
    • Unfortunately, intimate partner violence victims are frequently charged with “failure to protect” their children, particularly if the children have also been victims of child abuse or sexual abuse in the home. We can help change this by changing our language and attitudes – intimate partner violence expert Lundy Bancroft recommends that instead of referring to these victims as “battered mothers” or “battered fathers,” we change that terminology to “protective mothers” or “protective fathers.” These parents go to great lengths to protect their children and know that sometimes staying in the relationship is sometimes their best chance to protect them.
  • LOVE
    • As difficult as it can be for others to understand, the victim may still love the perpetrator. Because the battering doesn’t occur every day – or sometimes even every month or every year – and because the abuser can be very loving and caring at other times, the victim remains in love with the abuser.
    • The victim may not get support from his or her family, or may get inappropriate support.
    • The victim may come from a family that itself has an abusive system of power and control; lessons learned in childhood may pressure her or him to stay, especially if her or his abused parent has stayed. The abusive family may pressure her or him to stay because “it isn’t that bad.”
    • The victim’s family, church, or other religious community may pressure him or her to stay in the relationship because they do not believe in divorce, or because they teach that a wife should submit to her husband in all things, even if there is abuse.
    • The victim’s church or religious community may teach that even after divorce, any future relationship is adultery, leaving the victim to feel that she or he may have to remain single and lonely for the rest of her or his life, and she or he simply may not feel able to cope with the anticipation of that kind of loneliness.
    • Victims living in rural areas experience special difficulties:
      • There are simply fewer available services. Those referral and assistance services, domestic violence shelters, etc. that are available may be far from where the victim lives. If there are local services, they may be staffed by family or friends of the victim and/or the perpetrator.
      • The victim may be unaware that intimate partner violence and child abuse are crimes, or that what he or she is experiencing qualifies as violence/abuse.
      • The victim may have little or no access to emergency communication options.
      • The victim may have even more difficulty accessing transportation.
      • Victims in rural areas may be even more isolated than victims who live in larger cities or towns.
      • There is a longer emergency response time in rural areas.
      • In rural areas, everybody knows everybody; doctors, law enforcement officers, district attorneys, judges, and others the victim encounters in the process of seeking help may know and be friends with the perpetrator. This is often referred to as “The Bubba Factor.”
      • Getting physical safety may mean leaving behind – and taking the children away from – everything and everyone that is familiar, since to be safe the victim may have to leave the area. This means a complete loss of any social support the victim may have had.

So what can you or I do for victims? We can correct the “Why does she stay?” misconceptions we hear from others. We can avoid such victim-blaming ourselves. And when we encounter a victim, we can say:

  • I believe you. 
  • I’m concerned about your safety [and the safety of your children, if applicable].
  • If you decide you’re ready to make a change, there is help available.
  • This is not your fault.
  • You deserve to be happy.



  • Bancroft, Lundy. (2012, September 25). Assessing risk to children from men who batter. Domestic and Family Violence. Lecture conducted by N. Ann Lowrance from Oklahoma State University, Oklahoma City. 
  • Bancroft, Lundy. (2012, September 27). Representing protective mothers. Domestic and Family Violence. Lecture conducted by N. Ann Lowrance from Oklahoma State University, Oklahoma City.
  • Bancroft, Lundy. (2012, October 2). Meeting the post-separation needs of battered women and their children. Domestic and Family Violence. Lecture conducted by N. Ann Lowrance from Oklahoma State University, Oklahoma City.
  • Lowrance, N.A. (2012, September 4). Oklahoma domestic violence statistics. Domestic and Family Violence. Lecture conducted from Oklahoma State University, Oklahoma City. 
  • Lowrance, N.A. (2012, September 11). Domestic violence: When there’s no place like home. Domestic and Family Violence. Lecture conducted from Oklahoma State University, Oklahoma City.
  • Lowrance, N.A. (2012, September 25). Assessing risks to children. Domestic and Family Violence. Lecture conducted from Oklahoma State University, Oklahoma City.
  • Injury Prevention Service. (2012, August 31). Injury update: Intimate partner violence-related deaths in Oklahoma. Oklahoma State Department of Health, Oklahoma City.
  • Oklahoma Domestic Violence Fatality Review Board. (2011). Domestic violence homicide in Oklahoma: A decade of review 2001-2011. Oklahoma Office of Attorney General, Oklahoma City.

Intimate partner violence, more commonly referred to as domestic violence, involves a pattern of power and control of a current or former intimate partner, dating partner, or spouse. We have a cultural idea of what this looks like: the one ingrained in most of the folks I know is a big burly guy beating up on his cowed, helpless wife when he gets drunk or when she does something “wrong.” Maybe the picture you learned is somewhat different from that. Nevertheless, the truth is that there is not a “typical” batterer, and most batterers can be difficult for bystanders to identify, and even harder to call out.

While heterosexual women are predominantly the victims of intimate partner violence, there are absolutely also heterosexual male victims, gay and lesbian victims, and transgender victims1, 2. Twice as many women with disabilities are victims of intimate partner violence than women without disabilities3. Women of color tend to be far more likely to be intimate partner violence victims than do white women4, 5. Immigrant women are more likely to be victims and less likely to report intimate partner violence6, 7, 8. Women in rural communities experience higher rates of intimate partner violence and face unique barriers to reporting and exiting abusive relationships9, 10, 11. In addition, children exposed to intimate partner violence in their families experience increased depression, anxiety, and aggressive acting out with others as well as educational difficulties and lifelong difficulty establishing healthy relationships12, 13, 14. The tools of power and control vary from perpetrator to perpetrator, but commonly include some or all of the following tactics (consolidated from several of the various “Power & Control Wheels”).

  • Coercion and Threats
    • Making and/or carrying out threats to do something to hurt the victim, abandon the victim, commit suicide, report the victim (to child welfare, to the police, to immigration, etc.), kill the victim. Coercing the victim into dropping charges, committing crimes, etc. Driving recklessly or doing other dangerous things to frighten the victim. Threatening others who are important to the victim. Threatening to “out” the victim’s sexual orienation, gender identity or transgender status, sexual proclivities, etc. Stalking the victim.
  • Intimidation
    • Making the victim feel afraid by using eye contact, gestures, or behaviors. Smashing and breaking things, yelling and screaming, using a threatening tone of voice, tearing up photos, destroying property, abusing children or pets, displaying weapons.
  • Sexual Abuse
    • Comparing victim to past sexual partners. Flirting with others to make victim jealous. Treating the victim as a sex object. Using drugs or alcohol to get sex. Pressuring, coercing, or threatening the victim to get sex. Rape.
  • Physical Abuse
    • Holding the victim so he or she can’t leave. Slamming the victim into walls or furnishings. Hurting the victim where bruises won’t show. Twisting arms, hair pulling, tripping, biting, grabbing, slapping, hitting, shoving, punching, kicking, choking.
  • Emotional Abuse
    • Putting the victim down, inducing the victim to lower and lower self-esteem, constant criticism of the victim, calling the victim names, insulting the victim, gaslighting the victim, playing mind games, humiliating the victim, making the victim feel guilty or ashamed. Reinforcing social prejudices and oppression the victim may suffer (homophobia, transphobia, sexism, racism).
  • Isolation
    • Controlling what the victim does, who the victim sees and talks to, what the victim reads, and where the victim goes. Limiting the victim’s outside involvement with friends and family. Preventing the victim from working. Using jealousy to justify the perpetrator’s actions, usually while blaming the victim for the jealousy. Making the victim account for her or his whereabouts. Saying nobody will believe the victim because of traits such as sexual orientation, gender identity, etc. Isolating the victim from those who speak her or his language. Not allowing the victim to learn or speak English.
  • Minimizing, Denying, and Blaming
    • Making light of perpetrator’s abusive behavior. Making a joke about it when hurting the victim. Not taking victim’s concerns seriously. Saying abuse didn’t happen. Shifting responsibility for abusive behavior from the perpetrator to the victim. Accusing the victim of “mutual abuse.” Saying women can’t be abusers or men can’t be abused, saying same-sex partners can’t abuse each other. Blaming violence on job stress or alcohol abuse.
  • Using Children
    • Making the victim feel guilty about the children. Using the children to relay messages. Using visitation with the children to harass the victim. Threatening to take the children or have them taken. Alienating the children from the victim. Refusing to help with the children. Telling the children the victim is a bad parent. Threatening to hurt the children.
  • Economic Abuse
    • Preventing the victim from working. Making the victim ask for money, giving the victim an allowance, taking the victim’s money. Keeping the victim in the dark about or not giving the victim access to family income. Interfering with the victim’s work or education. Using the victim’s credit cards or money without permission. Perpetrator not working and requiring the victim to support her or him. Putting assets in the perpetrator’s name only. Hiding or destroying important documents. Threatening to report the victim for working “under the table.” Forcing the victim to do sex work.
  • Using Privilege
    • Treating the victim like a servant. Making all the decisions, acting like the “master of the castle,” being the one to define roles in the household. Having expectations that the victim cannot meet. Setting all the rules of the relationship. Failing to file papers to legalize the victim’s immigration status; threatening to withdraw papers filed to legalize the victim’s residency.


  1. Rennison, C. M. (2003, February). Intimate partner violence, 1993-2001. (NCJ 197838). Bureau of Justice Statistics Crime Data Brief. Retrieved January 22, 2009, available here.
  2. Fountain, K., & Skolnik, A. (2007). Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender domestic violence in the United States in 2006: A report of the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs . Retrieved November 11, 2008, available here (PDF).
  3. Nosek, M. & Howland, C. (1998, February). Abuse and women with disabilities. Harrisburg, PA: VAWnet. Retrieved January 23, 2009, available here.
  4. Tjaden, P. & Thoennes, N. (2000, July). Extent, nature and consequences of intimate partner violence: Findings from the National Violence Against Women Survey. (NCJ 181867). Washington, DC: National Institute of Justice/Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved November 4, 2008, available here.
  5. Rennison, C. M., & Welchans, S. (2000, May). Intimate partner violence. Bureau of Justice Statistics Special Report. (NCJ 178247). Washington, DC: US Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics.
  6. Ensuring fairness and justice for noncitizen survivors of domestic violence. Pendleton, G. Juvenile and Family Court Journal, 69-86.Fall, 2003.
  7. Shetty, S. & Kaguyutan, J. (2002, February). Immigrant victims of domestic violence: Cultural challenges and available legal protections. Harrisburg, PA: VAWnet. Retrieved March 19, 2009, available here.
  8. Violence against immigrant women: The roles of culture, context, and legal immigrant status on intimate partner violence. 8(3), 367-398 Raj, A. & Silverman, J. Violence Against Women. March, 2002.
  9. Rural woman battering and the justice system: An ethnography. Websdale, N. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. (1998).
  10. Unheard and unseen: Rural women and domestic violence. 41(6), 463-466 Adler, C. Journal of Nurse-Midwifery. (1996).
  11. Johnson, R. M. (2000, August). Rural health response to domestic violence: Policy and practice issues . U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Retrieved December 23, 2008.
  12. Child witnesses to domestic violence: A meta-analytic review. 71(2), 339–352. Kitzmann, K.M., Gaylord, N.K., Holt, A.R., & Kenny, E.D. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, (2003).
  13. The effects of children’s exposure to Domestic Violence: A meta-analysis and critique. 6(3), 171-187 Wolfe, D.A., Crooks, C. V.,Lee, V., McIntyre-Smith, A., & Jaffe, P.J. Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review, (2003).
  14. Edleson, J.L. (2004). Should childhood exposure to adult domestic violence be defined as child maltreatment under the law?
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